This post is part of our Non Sequitur Fridays series, which will feature a different Wistian's take on a non-Wistia-related topic each week. It's like our "employee of the month" but less "of the month"-y. Ben Ruedlinger is VP of operations at Wistia. His last Non Sequitur was about his pinball obsession. This time around, Ben decided to write some fiction.
"It all started on your 16th birthday. Back then, your 16th birthday was something magical… like the gateway to freedom. Once you hit that milestone, you could sign up for Driver’s Education."
"At school?" asked his grandson, while checking his watch to make sure he had enough storage left to record the conversation.
"Yup. It lasted a couple months, and you took it just like any other class. They taught you all of the Rules of the Road. But, the strangest part was that they showed these gore movies with names like Highways of Agony and Red Asphalt. It was real footage from actual accidents meant to scare the bejeezus out of you so that you would follow the rules. Most kids laughed it off, but it did make an impression."
"Back in those days, something like 30,000 people in the US were killed every year in car accidents. That's like every single person in our town dying in a car crash, every year. Kinda crazy to think about now, eh?"
He couldn't tell if his grandson was actually interested or just trying to complete his class project. Either way, talking about "the way things used to be" was one of the few things the old man enjoyed.
"I'm the only one in my class who even knows someone who actually drove a transporter," said the boy.
The old man snapped back, "Cars! Back then they were called cars." He put down his tablet and leaned back into his chair. The old man stared off into the distance, almost looking past the boy.
"I remember this specific moment, cruising down a highway at 80 MPH with the windows open, sun beating down on my left side, and one hand on the wheel. I was driving by myself to your grandmother's parent’s house up north. I’d been on the road for two hours or so, that time when your mind starts to get a little foggy."
"There were cars on either side of me, going just as fast as I was. I remember having this thought that if any little thing goes wrong… I sneeze and accidentally jerk the wheel, or I'm unable to resist that little impulse deep down to do something reckless and stupid… that's the only thing separating me from being mixed up with a twisted pile of metal on the side of the road."
The old man took a small sip from his "coffee" cup that he suspiciously kept down by the side of his reclining chair rather than on the side table. "On one hand, it’s amazing that we took such huge risks every day. At the same time, driving gave you this sense of control and empowerment like nothing else could."
"Cars back then were a status symbol. If you were 16 and had your own 'set of wheels' you were hot shit. Having a car made it a little easier to make friends or a little more likely that the girl you had a crush on would say 'yes' when you asked her out on a date. Maybe it was the car or maybe it was the confidence that the car gave you. Either way, if you had a car at 16, you were on top of the world."
"Great Grandpa, but how did it start? The Great Transition I mean." The boy's knees bounced with impatience as he waited for his grandfather to get to the point.
"The Great Transition? More like The Great Catastrophe. One out of ten people put out of work, industries destroyed overnight. Who could have ever guessed that self-driving cars would have had such a huge impact."
The boy could see the old man shift in his seat. Though his his face was becoming flushed, he smiled at the boy with a feigned politeness.
"Alright, well, Grandpa's getting tired. How about you come back tomorrow and I'll tell you all about it." He got up slowly, hoping the boy would pick up on the cue.
"Okay, but we have to finish up tomorrow, my project is due on Friday," the boy said, gathering his things and tapping his watch to pause the recording.
Part 2, The Great Transition, coming soon...